Not only did Penn State’s leaders fail to protect children from Jerry Sandusky, but also they deliberately concealed facts to avoid negative PR.
Those are among the findings from a new report out this morning that offers a damning assessment of Penn State’s handling of Sandusky, who was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse toward young boys.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Louis Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. who oversaw the investigation, said in prepared remarks. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
The report said:
“It is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University … repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large.”
Penn State’s Board of Trustees did not know about the allegations regarding Sandusky in 1998 and 2001, according to the report. Although the report does note that the board failed to create an environment in which the school’s senior leaders were held accountable.
Freeh’s investigation sought to clarify what happened—including who knew what and when—in relation to Sandusky. It also offered recommendations for the school.
According to the report, Joe Paterno made at least a couple of moves to protect Sandusky, who was his head defensive coach. In one instance, top officials decided not to report an incident in February 2001 after consulting with Paterno. The iconic college football coach also waited to report Sandusky’s sexual misconduct to school officials because he didn’t “want to interfere” with people’s weekend, the report said.
Paterno died of lung cancer in January. The New York Times
said Paterno’s family has tried to “blunt the force of any findings by Freeh,” issuing a statement on Tuesday “that sought to undermine the fairness of the investigation.”
From the Times
“The statement said Paterno, who died in January, had been eager to tell all he knew about the university’s dealings with Sandusky and had admitted to having failed to do more to stop Sandusky. But it lamented what it called the improper and misleading disclosure in recent weeks of aspects of Freeh’s findings.”
Freeh’s report notes that the investigators didn’t get to talk with Paterno, but it added:
“To his credit, Mr. Paterno stated on November 9, 2011, ‘With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.’”
Sandusky went on to abuse more boys after Paterno and other university officials decided not to report his actions to authorities.
Penn State's crisis PR came under fire in November when the story broke, prompting communications professors and public relations students to criticize the school publicly. A Penn State PR student, who wrote a guest column for PR Daily at the time, described the bewilderment that had spread across campus
“At the dismissal of class, there was one conclusion—not only was this a human tragedy, but also the beginning of a public relations nightmare for Penn State,” Alexis Morgan wrote. “Despite more than two-year ongoing investigation, it was clear there had been no crisis communication plan pre-scandal.”